Archive for October, 2012

This one’s from Plinky (I didn’t care for the NaBloPoMo prompt for today):  “Describe your perfect Sunday morning.”

Perfect?  That covers a lot of ground, but here goes:

I wake up early, no later than 6:00 a.m. and preferably around 5:00.  Say some prayers, start pulling my thoughts together for the day.  My husband gets up shortly after, and makes coffee.  Note to Orthodox friends:  I’m painfully aware that I shouldn’t be drinking coffee before receiving Communion, but I had such a struggle to get my husband to accept that I should be leaving the house without eating breakfast that several priests said I should just go ahead and have coffee with him.

We share a cup of coffee, then he makes his breakfast while I get ready for church.  Outside, it’s Autumn, and the weather is cool  and wet – not a downpour, but a steady shower.  (Remember, we’re talking Perfect.)  In a Perfect scenario, I actually get out of the house by 8:00 a.m.; realistically, it’s usually closer to 8:30, but I always try to get out by 8:00, and count my blessings if I’m out by 8:15.

It’s a ninety-minute drive to church.  Other people in my neighborhood can get there in an hour, but they take the highway and speed like demons.  I like to take a more direct route that involves back roads; it takes me longer, but I’m happy not to get to church in a frazzled state, having cursed out All Those Other Crazy Drivers, which is no way to go to church, anyway.

Nowadays it sounds so sanctimonious to say, “I go to church,” like you’re trying to convince people that you’re somehow better than those who sleep in or go for a jog or, I don’t know, get an early start on getting plastered.  “Better” has nothing to do with it.  Being pious has nothing to do with it.  Church is so many things to me:  a place where I can be my truest self, a place where I can meet like-minded people, a place where I can sing truly beautiful music – most of all, a place to encounter God.

My Perfect Sunday Morning would include my husband, but he refuses to drive in Massachusetts, even though, taking the route I take, we’re only in Massachusetts for about five miles of the drive, if that.  I will admit that it’s the scariest part of the drive, since it involves going around a traffic circle under a highway, and people in New England aren’t too good about traffic circles – they always try to grab the right of way from the people in the circle, who actually do have the right of way.  I find that using turn signals throws them long enough for me to exit safely; they aren’t too big on turn signals, either.

So when I visit my little Russian congregation, I go by myself.  The music is already Perfect, since the entire Liturgy is sung and I don’t have to worry about some of the Protestant hymns that just grate on my ears (and the hymns used in the American Catholic Church are even worse.  Beatles’ songs?!  Really?!).  We use arrangements either from the Octoechos, the Eight-Tone cycle of the Orthodox Church that’s akin to Gregorian chant, or we use compositions by classical composers like Bortniansky, Tchaikovsky, Kastalsky, Chesnokov (no Rachmaninoff, though I live in hope); there is a wonderful Lord’s Prayer by Stravinsky, of all people, and I’d love to sing that sometime.

After worship, there’s a social hour.  It always involves food, and some of the meals can be quite elaborate, and very Russian; but there are also American dishes, since mine is primarily a convert parish.  Most fun of all is getting to sit down and talk to people, though even if people are engaged in conversation that doesn’t include me, I can just sit and eat and listen in – the tables are long, refectory-style tables, not round tables that are used in some other parishes.

Finally, replete with good food, good conversation, and a sense of being refreshed and renewed to face the coming week, I get back into my car for the long drive home.  In an absolutely Perfect world, the rain would keep all the Sunday shoppers home, so that my commute would be relatively quiet and peaceful; but I find that shoppers are out, regardless of the weather.  The worst aspect of the commute is that there are only two routes to church:  one is along a five-mile “shoppers’ paradise,” with the attendant horrible traffic, and the other is along a stretch of highway, being surrounded by cars speeding at 80 mph or better (around 135-140 kph), all making lightning lane switches at that insane rate of speed – there is no third route, that I’m aware of.  But once I’m past that ten-mile stretch of stop and go, I’m back on my quiet country road, on my way home again.

PS:  My husband informs me that if my parish were located in New Hampshire or Maine, he would come with me.  So I don’t make this commute every week; every other week, I accompany him to a Greek parish.  This does not fit my Perfect-Sunday scenario, so I won’t go into it here.

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Weekends being for free-writing in the NaBloPoMo world, I thought I’d take the opportunity to update folks on our latest home-improvement project.

Now that the kids are out of the house, we have been able to upgrade our property gradually over the past several years, adding porches front and back, updating the furnace, and most recently, putting on a new roof and upgrading the bathroom.  Thanks goodness for home-improvement loans.  All of these, I might add, were actually necessary upgrades; now that we are in our sixties, falls are much more of a concern, so the old back steps and front porch had to go (being made out of stone).  We have already seen significant savings in our heating bill from the new furnace – not an easy bill to trim in northern climates – and our roof would not have withstood another winter.

The bathroom was another matter, and not strictly speaking necessary.  What occasioned its remodel was the caulking around the tub, where it abuts the wall – the caulking was impossible to keep clean, and the hubster was constantly having to refresh it.  So when we contracted to have our roof repaired, he asked the contractor if he could do something about the caulking around the tub.  And the answer was…you should think about a new bathtub.

In “thinking” about a new tub (for all of five seconds), the hubster decided what the heck, just have the whole bathroom remodeled.  It’s only 6 x 8 feet (very roughly, 5.5 meters x 7 meters) – the house was built in the 1950s, when large and luxurious bathrooms were the province of Hollywood stars.  So we knew it was a project we could afford.  The real problem was that everything was going to have to come out and be replaced, and we only have the one bathroom.

The contractor was phenomenal.  He cut the bathtub out – I still don’t know how he cut porcelain into thirds – and the new tub was installed the same day, which was the first day of the project.  The new “surround” – a special wall that resists moisture – went in at the same time, and I could see why he had recommended replacing the tub:  There’s a “lip” that curves up around the edge of the tub, and the surround slots into that lip, eliminating the need for caulking altogether.  Twenty-first-century bathing.

Every evening before he left for the day, he would reinstall the toilet so that we had something we could use.  The bathroom sink, well, that was another matter; it sat in our kitchen for the entire three weeks of the remodel, and we had to brush our teeth at the kitchen sink morning and night, which gets real interesting when the kitchen sink comes up to your chest (as mine does on me).  For shaving, my husband had a small hand mirror that he would prop up against the kitchen window.  The last time we lived this way was when we lived in a third-floor cold-water flat as newlyweds in Germany, and even then, he had a mirror in the bathroom for shaving.  (I used to pour hot water from the kettle into the sink so that he had hot water for shaving.)

The walls came out, too, in a complete gutting of the bathroom.  Fortunately, the weather stayed warm so that we didn’t need insulated walls – we’d have frozen, otherwise – and the electrician hooked up one light bulb so that we weren’t showering in the pitch dark.  Using the bathroom in the early morning, however, was another story; who wants to turn on a light bulb at 5:00 a.m.?!  And that’s where flexibility saved the day.

When he was finished showering in the evening, my husband would drape his towel over two nails that had been hammered into the frame around the window, and that served as our “curtain” so we had a modicum of privacy in the evening.  Before we went to bed, we’d remove the towel, which left the light of a street lamp shining onto the white surround, and provided us with just enough “light” that we could see what we were doing before sunrise.  Really, I don’t know how people managed before electricity – how did you see what you were doing when it came time to light the fire in the morning?!  I mean, even a nighttime candle would have burned down overnight, no?

We did a lot of laughing over these three weeks – we laugh a lot anyway at the vagaries of life, but when everything is topsy-turvy, it really helps to keep your sense of humor.  We did a lot of reminiscing, too, about our newlywed experiences, and my husband recalled the winter morning when he was shaving in that cold-water bathroom and looked up to see…snowflakes drifting down through the closed window in the roof.  (It was a rooftop flat.)  Compared with that, our current state of affairs was almost luxury.

But I won’t pretend I wasn’t ecstatic when the bathroom sink was finally hooked back up and I didn’t have to stand on tiptoes to brush my teeth.

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Yes, I missed another day – the hubster was online all blessed day yesterday.  Retirement does have its drawbacks.  That said, today’s prompt is:

“Do you tend to cover up your failings or admit your mistakes?”

Frankly, at this point I’m too old not to have caught on to the idea that everybody makes mistakes – some of them whoppers – and it’s easier if you just own up to them and get on with repairing them.  That doesn’t mean that I like admitting to mistakes, or that I’m proud of them; too many years of getting reamed out for minor, and honest, mistakes in Catholic school keep getting in the way.  I mean, yeah, if you forget one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity on a test, that’s definitely in the Serious-Error-Bordering-on-Heresy category.  But if you’re in second grade, and have barely learned to print, let alone writing in cursive – I think the Holy Spirit would find it in His heart to forgive, which is more than the Dominican nuns would do.

No, this actually did not happen to me.  Being in a perpetual state of terror made it impossible to forget any such thing.  But there were many other occurrences, most of them so minor that I have forgotten them, that have left their cumulative effect on me, and as a result, it takes real courage to admit, “Yeah, I messed up here.”

But that courage is necessary, if only because the rest of the world, not having been terrorized by Dominican nuns (or any other kind of nun), actually does understand that nobody’s perfect, that mistakes are made, and that “that’s why there are erasers on the ends of pencils,” as the saying goes.  (Interestingly, we were forbidden to write in pencil after second grade, nor could we use ballpoint pens – fountain pens only, and if you did make a mistake, you crossed it out with one line.  More than one mistake, and you rewrote the whole paper.)

I’ve made a couple of real whoppers, but probably the worst was the letter I wrote to the Bishop of our Diocese on the strength of a rumor, asking him not to appoint a certain priest to our parish to replace the one that had left.  Normally I would never do such a thing, but having heard that this priest had definitely been selected, I wanted to know more about him; so I logged onto the website of the parish he was serving, and there found an icon of a decidedly non-Orthodox saint, and a quote from her, as well.  I mean, really.  We have plenty of our own saints to choose from.

So I wrote to the Bishop about this matter, along the way mentioning the parish I was from and to which this priest was supposed to be appointed.  Several years later, having endured much puzzling contumely from various and sundry, I learned that not the Bishop, but his Chancellor, had read my letter, gone to the website of my home parish, and not finding any such icon or quote there (because it wasn’t there), telephoned the departing priest and asked him if I was some kind of nut case.  This poor soul came to the conclusion that I had lied about him in order to get him into trouble with the Bishop, and it wasn’t until his best friend in the parish enlightened me that I found out about the whole mess.

Now, how do you fix that kind of mistake?  You don’t.  It’s out there, and nothing I could possibly say or do will correct the false impression left by an overworked Chancellor who transposed parishes – or maybe he was barely literate in English, for all I know – and caused grief, mayhem, and aggravation all around.

But as a result, I have learned not to write to Bishops.

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On the Boards

Do you enjoy acting?”

Acting is not something I have ever had the opportunity to try.  That said, yes, I do think I would enjoy it.  I’m just thinking about how much fun it would be to become a whole other person for a period of time, rather like going on vacation, where no one knows you.

Obviously, there are limitations.  I mean, at five feet zero inches (approximately 150 cm), I’m never going to be able to play a giant.  And if you have a high-pitched voice, you’ll never succeed as a basso profundo.  But to be able to change your wardrobe, your mannerisms, your hair style, maybe even your voice, if you can manage that – higher? lower? foreign accent?  – that could actually be a great deal of fun.

You could even infuse something of yourself into the role (or not – Eliza Doolittle with a Brooklyn accent?!  Fuh-geddaboudit!).  But if, for example, you were a knitter (like me), you could make your knitting a part of your persona, and that would help to make your character more convincing.  Well – okay – maybe not if the role was Sally Bowles in Cabaret, or the tough, street-smart cop Melanie Griffith was supposed to be in A Stranger Among Us (great movie, great premise, ruined by Griffith’s sleep-walking through her role).  But I can’t think of too many other roles where it couldn’t work.

However – I could only do this if I could “play” with my lines.  I mean, I know you’re supposed to memorize lines.  And I’ve seen the hilarious out-takes of shows where the actors flub their lines, and a serious scene is ruined by someone tripping over his own tongue, something like Waffly Wedded Wife (or not – this particular instance, while a prime example of tripping over one’s own tongue, made this wedding memorable for thousands more people than actually attended the event).

Anyway, my point is that to be able to act successfully, I would need to be able to “massage” my lines, that is, not spit them back word for word.  The actor Jimmy Steward did something like this with his first role, in which he played a butler with exactly two lines:  “Mrs. Smythe-Jones will see you now,” and “Mrs. Smythe-Jones is going to be awfully mad,” or something along those lines.  He played the role every single night, in addition to two matinees per week, and he said he got through it by altering his tone of voice and the way he said the words for every single performance.  That kind of artistry caught the attention of a Broadway producer, and the rest is history.

If I could do that – play with my role, have fun with my role, infuse something of myself into my role, and still actually become another person altogether for a period of time – yes, I think I’d love acting.

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I was originally going to respond to the NaBloPoMo prompt, “Are you good at hiding your feelings, or is your face an open book?” but something else related to the topic of Masks has been on my mind lately, namely, do you hide from your roots?

There used to be an expression when I was young, “forgetting where you came from.”  It was used in talking about people with humble beginnings who had risen to great heights, like Donald Trump being from Rego Park in Queens, NY.  Rego Park is a nice enough neighborhood, but it will never have the same status as being from Jamaica Estates.  Or Gramercy Park in Manhattan.  One of the highest compliments anyone could pay such a person was that “he hasn’t forgotten where he came from”; to “forget where you came from” was despicable.

And it’s on my mind lately because I know two people who seem to have forgotten Where They Came From.  One of them is my own daughter, who has apparently decided that her parents are too ordinary for her to bother staying in touch with.  Or maybe it’s that our house, all 950 square feet of it, is too modest.  It may even be that she has unhappy memories of growing up among us, though that was never an excuse for blowing off Family.  Be that as it may, she recently acquired a hot-shot job with an international company that involves jetting back and forth across the Atlantic – I won’t say where – and other than apprising us of that fact (after telling her immediate world on Facebook), she hasn’t said a word to us about her life.  Or her husband, or their children.  The situation has gone on for so long that I’m not sure it can ever be repaired, and that’s not something anyone should be able to say about her children.

The other is an old friend of my husband’s from grade school.  These two boys were over at each other’s houses every day, and were as close as brothers.  They stayed in touch through high school and college, and even after military service, for a time.  But military service seemed to change things between them, as (despite having a college degree before enlistment) my husband was assigned to the enlisted ranks, and this other fellow became an officer.  After the service, he and his wife had us out to their home a few times, and we had them to ours; they lived on Long Island, in increasingly tony neighborhoods, and we lived in Queens, not too far from where we had grown up.  He went on to a career in nuclear physics, my husband went into occupational safety and health.  And one day, this guy simply stopped writing, and didn’t return telephone calls.  We never figured out why.

Recently, my husband went to some trouble to look him up on the internet.  He’s now living in the Southwest – I’m being deliberately vague – but he has an important position in his community, and is very obviously among the ranks of the Successful.  My husband got an address for him and sent him a note, together with his e-mail address and an invitation to renew the friendship.  That was three weeks ago, and he hasn’t heard a thing.

Meanwhile, over on Facebook, I’ve reconnected with a number of people who are cousins, or friends of cousins, from the old neighborhood.  It’s so much fun to talk about the old haunts, to catch up on one another’s lives, to see what we all look like now – you can see the resemblance to who they were 40 years ago – just to reconnect.  When we are “together,” even via the internet, the masks come off, and we are still pretty much the same group who enjoyed laughs together, and shared the torments of Catholic school (about which we laugh, now).  Every once in so often, one or another of us will reconnect with yet another branch of the family, and the fun starts all over again.

I feel sorry for my daughter, and for my husband’s friend.  Sure, it’s nice to have the toys and props to impress your new friends – maybe – I mean, aren’t you always on display?  Don’t you always have to wear that mask?  When do you get to be yourself, to slip and say “cawfey” when referring to your morning beverage, instead of whatever pronunciation of “coffee” is locally acceptable?  Or talk about what it was like to move from a four-room railroad flat in Ridgewood to a single-family house in Maspeth?  (A railroad flat is an apartment with rooms just like a railroad car – you have to walk through all the rooms, even the bedrooms, to get from front to back.  A lot of Brooklyn and Queens apartments were railroad flats.)

Home has a lot of definitions:  Home is where you hang your hat, home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in, home is where the heart is – my favorite came from the German author, Max Frisch:  “Home is where we understand the people, and they understand us.”  Home is where you can take the mask off.  Home is where you came from.

Don’t forget where you came from.  The loss is permanent.

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“When you saw the word mask, was your first interpretation protection, covering up, persona, or performance?”

The NaBloPoMo theme for this month is Masks, presumably owing to Halloween at the end of the month.  I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in the USA, Halloween – All Hallows’ Eve – has taken on a life of its own.  When I was young, it was an excuse to shake down your neighbors for all the candy your mother wouldn’t let you eat the rest of the year; when my mother was young, it was an excuse to commit minor mayhem in the neighborhood (if I recall correctly, letting the air out of car tires was a popular prank).

Nowadays, though, there are costume parties for adults, and people seem to go all out for the scariest persona they can dredge up.  Zombies are so ubiquitous that my son has actually declared that he’s sick of them – and there’s a road in South Carolina marked, “Zombie Crossing.”  (I suspect my daughter is responsible for that – zombies figure large in her fiction.)

I myself am one of those cranks who think the whole thing has gotten out of hand, and we don’t participate.  We don’t ever have our porch light on – the signal that a house is open for trick-or-treating – and should someone wander up to our doorstep by mistake, we hand out nickels.  I think the word’s gotten out about the nickels, since no one has come to our door for the past two years.

None of this is where I wanted to go with this post, but I couldn’t resist the detour through the Land of the Cranky Old Broad.  In reality, when I hear the word “mask,” my first thought is of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door – who is it for?”  What an image:  When you are home alone, you wear your real face, but when someone comes to your door, you reach into a figurative jar and pull out whatever face you think is appropriate to the situation, Welcoming or Polite Inquiry or Take-a-Hike-NOW-If-You-Know-What’s-Good-for-You.  But none of them is really you.

Do we all do this, I wonder?  I do.  Although it’s true that I do truly care about the people I know and love, it doesn’t always register that there are Expectations as to how one shows that one cares.  So, for example, I have to remind myself to send birthday cards, and I have to force myself to send Christmas cards – even though I’m genuinely glad that these people are celebrating another year of life, and I love getting Christmas cards – just not sending them out.  When I meet people in the street, I know how to greet them with the appropriate level of enthusiasm for whatever they have to share about their lives – but it’s all a reaction I’ve learned over many, many years of watching other people and how they handle encounters; it’s nothing I do naturally.  Once my acquaintances go their way, they’re off the radar screen.

So…what face do I wear when I’m by myself?  Darned if I know – it’s usually buried in a book, or a cross-stitch project.  But I can say – and this is all I will say about my true face – when I wear my true face, it’s when I’m at prayer.  No point wearing any other, since God is no respecter of masks!

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